Rimbaud: City from ILLUMINATIONS
“I’m an ephemeral and not too discontented citizen of a metropolis thought to be modern because all known taste has been avoided in the furnishing and exterior of houses as well as the city plan. Here you cannot point out a trace of a single monument to superstition. Morals and language are reduced to their simplest expression, at last! These millions not needing to know each other pursue their education, work, and old age so identically that the course of their lives must be several times shorter than absurd statistics allow this continent’s peoples. So, from my window, I see fresh spectres roaming through thick eternal fumes – our woodland shade, our summer night! – New Furies, before my cottage which is my homeland, my whole heart, since all here resembles this – Death without tears, our active daughter and servant, desperate Love and pretty Crime whimpering in the mud of the street”.
Cited from Rimbaud ILLUMINATIONS, poetryintranslation.com (translation slightly modified by me to correspond to Badiou’s discussion).
Context: Badiou begins with a critique of the dominant ideology, which he diagnoses as an ideology of finitude. He contrasts pre-modern or traditional societies based on an ideology of stability or repetition with modernity, based on an ideology of movement or circulation. He proposes to continue this analysis by considering the “poetic critique of modernity” as contained in the above poem by Rimbaud.
Badiou: “I will briefly highlight a few points
- As an element of the general circulation, I’m an ephemeral, but as I do not live in a society of castes (Rimbaud rejoins here Tocqueville’s analyses of democracy), I am finally not too badly treated and for that reason not too discontented. I think that this is what we all are – a little discontented but not enough to commit to a radical move beyond. Rimbaud sees very clearly that the modern form of conservatism is not a fanatical attachment to tradition (Rimbaud is always characterised by mathematical exactitude). What is expected from us in societies where the finitude of circulation is iestablished, is a consensus.
- There is a dissolution of intensities. Morals and language are reduced to their simplest expression. In effect, the general circulation is extensive, and intensities have no place there, Marx already saw that in the Manifesto, all the forms of intensities are dissolved in the icy waters of egoistical calculation. At last ! (salutation – ironic – by Rimbaud to this new manner of being).
- It is a society that does not include the social bond. These millions not needing to know each other. As one is in the general circulation of everything, the atomised individual suffices.
- Life itself is reduced to a stereotype : pursue their education, work, and old age so identically that the course of their lives must be several times shorter than absurd statistics allow this continent’s peoples. Every life, being the same as every other, has no intrinsic length, it must be very short, because what one does during it is is always only participate atomistically in the general circulation, which does not create a veritable temporality.
- Everything is homogeneous: all here resembles this, everything being reflected by the general equivalent général, everything is the same (if there were intense differences in things, they would prevent them from being exchanged with each other), eand that is a sort of figure of death Death without tears, death mort itself become a negligeable quantity. Rimbaud arrives here at the point where the only defendable figure of intensity is that of desperate Love”.
From Badiou’s seminar The Immanence of Truths (1): 2012-2013. Second class, November 14th 2012, my translation.
Note: the first in the series, that can be rebaptised Badiou reads Rimbaud (1) can be found here.